When you first catch a glimpse of actress Dot-Marie Jones, what words come to mind? Intimidating? Fierce? Powerful?
When the producers of “The Glee Project” hit her up to be the guest mentor on this week’s episode, they were after a slightly different concept: vulnerability.
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Any Gleek will tell you that Jones’s character, football coach Shannon Beiste, perfectly fits this theme. Ever since the “Glee” episode “Never Been Kissed,” Beiste has held a place in fans’ hearts for being a much bigger softy that her grisly demeanor implies. Remember when she played Santa Claus for Brittany?
Every week on “Project,” the guest mentor judges the cast’s performance of a homework assignment based on a particular theme and chooses one contender to coach privately. The decision proved a tough one for Jones.
“It was so amazing to work with these kids,” she said in a conference call Thursday. “It was like I wanted to mentor them all.”
The theme and Jones’ mentorship brought out unexpected results from the cast. “I don’t know if I should even tell you,” she teased. “It’s something you have to see in Sunday’s episode, because it surprised me as well.”
As a 20-year veteran of the entertainment industry who still gets butterflies in her stomach whenever she’s on set, Jones has made a career of not fitting into the conventional mold most Hollywood actresses squeeze themselves into. She used her stint on “Project” to encourage the diverse contenders to not only embrace their unique qualities, but also to use them to their advantage.
“There are kids out there that don’t like how tall they are or how short they are, or some of them are a little chubby, and I fit all of these categories at one point in my life,” Jones said. “We were given this body for a reason; it’s up to us to figure out what to do with it.”
Much like her character, Jones found the experience of guiding a younger generation to be very rewarding, especially since she was a guest early in the season when so many contenders were still around to be coached. She believes the entire cast will walk away from the show having learned the power of self-acceptance.
“Just be who you are,” she said. “You’ve got to be true to yourself to be true to anybody else.”